Positive images of fatherhood are not all that common today, but John Thorndike's beautifully written and often painful story holds many such. Thorndike became a single father when his wife, Clarisa, drew away into dangerous mental illness. John raised his son, Janir, from toddlerhood.
The story begins in 1967, when John was a Peace Corps volunteer in El Salvador. He and Clarisa, a Salvadoran woman, married young. They moved to Chile to farm, where Janir was born. But soon after, Clarisa's strong-willed persona began to veer into shadow. Schizophrenia eventually carried her off into a realm of rages and violence. The young threesome returned to El Salvador and tried to make a go of it with the support of Clarisa's family. But before long, John, with Clarisa's permission, brought Janir alone to Ohio, where the two lived and farmed for 10 years.
Clarisa moved to San Francisco and, with John's encouragement, showed up from time to time in Ohio, despite her progressive deterioration. When Janir was 10, she offered him a hit of acid, saying "Eat this, but don't tell your dad." She eventually fell to her death from the balcony of a shabby San Francisco hotel, an apparent suicide.
During these years, John and Janir developed an intimacy far beyond what most father/son pairs seem to achieve in this era. The two had a great deal of physical contact, from roughhousing to working in the fields to lying together over a bedtime story. John took a radically nondirective approach to child-raising, preferring communication and respect to the wielding of authority. Thorndike candidly shares his self-judgments around his response to Clarisa's illness, his feelings of loneliness and failures with women during his years alone with Janir, and occasional doubts about the choices he made in raising his son. We see the hard work, and the sacrifice, and the harvest of joy-a crop that cannot be raised in any other way.